As the internet continues to make the world smaller, international independent bands are having an easier time finding a broader audience. The Fest 8, held in Gainesville, Florida, brought many European acts to their first performances in America. In this interview, conducted by Brandon Campbell, the French emo-punk band 12xU discusses their spot on The Fest 8, their experiences with the American punk scene and their passion for American folk music.
Could you introduce the band for us - who plays which instruments, where you are from, etc.?
12xU: Hi everyone! We're a trio, Hugues plays the drums and originally comes from Brittany, France, Gwen plays bass, sings and comes from a city close to Lyon, France and Julien sings, plays guitar and comes from the vineyard also not so far from Lyon. We all live & practice in Lyon.
How long has the band been playing together as 12XU?
12xU: We started in December 2007, so the band is 2 years old!
Just to clear up some confusion, does the band take its name from the similarly titled Wire song?
12xU: Definitely. It's not coming from Minor Threat.
Hugues Le Corre: Even if this other reference is nice I guess…
Why name your band 12XU?
12xU: We wanted a band name that came from Pink Flag, so we pointed out the name of the songs that would sound good as a band name and finally chose 12XU because it was short, weird and aggressive.
For those who haven't heard your music, how would you describe 12XU's sound?
12xU: A mix between punk rock and old school emo… Mid-tempo melodies… Vintage snare drums with tube amps and perpetual attempts to sing correctly over them… A quest for the best riff with basic chords…
I noticed you do a cover of Neil Young's "On the Beach" and have a post on your website in regards to folk guitarist Elizabeth Cotten. Am I correct in assuming that at least one of you in the band have an affinity for American folk music? If so, how has that influenced 12XU?
12xU: We all dig old singers from the Mississippi Delta and we're all fond of Neil Young, too. We won't say it influences us with the band, we just basically love the good old stuff. Back to the roots, you know? About the Neil Young cover, we thought it would have potential as a good punk rock song if we were to shorten it a bit and play it faster. The original is a killer. We hope to meet Neil one day. We'll ask to open for him next time he comes over to France.
What other musicians or styles of music do you draw influence from?
Julien Paget: Kurt Cobain, Rick Froberg, Fred Cole and Greg Sage would be my heroes and Thurston Moore too. I love their bands and the way they play the guitar influences me. We get a lot of inspiration from different bands. Besides the bands of the people I named above, I would also say Hüsker Dü, Rites of Spring, Stiff Little Fingers, Newton Neurotics, Wire, The Saints, Mega City Four and also Tubers, Old Growth and Twelve Hour Turn, The Marked Men and all our friends bands in Lyon too. Plus many, many, many others.
As an American I have my own views on underground music and its associated scenes. Can you give me some insight as to what it is like playing in an independent band in France?
Paget: it's different, but probably not as much as you'd think. We use the same method to book tours, do records, etc. France and Europe in general might offer a better welcome to touring bands, feeding and getting a place to sleep each time. Although, this tends to happen in the U.S., since we got a place to sleep and eat every night with 12XU and also with Daitro, Gwen and my other band, too in 2007. But the U.S. scene is probably more spontaneous, caring more about the present moment. House shows almost don't exist here and it's an important part of the D.I.Y. scene in the U.S. It is one of the most obvious differences, for example, because it creates a different atmosphere for the shows. They are more secret, more independent.
12XU recently played The Fest 8. Was this the band's first time playing in America?
12xU: First time ever!
What was The Fest experience like for you?
12xU: Stimulating, exciting, liberating. It was a really awesome experience for a young band like us. The Florida heat was enjoyable at that time of the year. We're definitely not used to wearing short pants in November and it felt pretty good.
Were there any major differences between playing in the United States as opposed to Europe?
Grosclaude : House shows! The best experience I had in the U.S.
Were you able to watch any bands at The Fest that you thought you might never see?
Paget: I missed The Bomb and really regret it. Then, I wasn't really into the headlining band this year and didn't really enjoy the sound in The Venue so, no regrets on that. Back home I looked at the booklet with all the bands and realized that I probably missed a lot of good bands. But, on the other hand, I had a lot of good times with friends that I haven't seen for a long time so it makes me feel really happy, probably better than if I saw more good bands and spent less time with friends.
Grosclaude : I was lucky to see Future Virgins! But, I missed Dillinger Four for the same reason that Julien already explained.
Le Corre: I saw Ringers, and the show was great! But, chilling out with friends in the backyard of a house with shows in the garage was a lot fun too.
In the past year, 12XU has released an eight-song demo cassette, a split 7" with Portland, Oregon's Old Growth and two of a planned four-part 7" series. What was the experience of recording these releases like for the band? Did you enjoy the process or are you anticipating some time away from the studio?
12xU: We kind of enjoy recording our songs and hearing them becoming reality. It helps us to form a self-criticism about our way of playing, because you have to be careful on little details as opposed to playing shows where you don't expect the same things. Then again, we're not really freaks spending hours and hours on a drum take or a guitar sound. We're just looking for a good feeling to make the song sound as its best.
When can we expect to see the final two 7" recordings?
12xU: We'll record them in January, so let's say it will be out between April and July 2010.
Do you plan on recording or releasing anything after the 7" series is finished, such as a full-length compilation of those records?
12xU: We'll probably have some extra songs that will be used for splits and then we'll work on an LP. We were thinking about doing an acoustic set as well, so we'll be able to play in the streets and take our music out of its usual context.
After a quick internet search, I noticed that your music is kind of hard to find. Where can people order your stuff?
12xU: No Idea has some 7"s, it's the only place you can get them in the U.S. Then the usual European distros have them, but we didn't press that many records and toured with them so they're going out fast.
In regards to releasing and producing 12XU's music, does the band take a predominantly do-it-yourself approach, are you comfortable using record labels to help promote your recordings, or do you strive to find a happy medium between the two?
12xU: If the labels are people we're friends with, or people we already met and like what they do, it's fine with us. We all know how to release records, we ourselves run record labels, but if a friend likes the band enough to do it with or for us it's something we appreciate a lot. Also, because we're stoked to have a record of our band on a label we enjoy! Even more so when it's a friend.
Sadly, I don't speak French. With music as emotive as yours, one might expect your lyrics to be just as poignant. Can you give us non-French speaking fans an idea of what it is you sing about?
12xU: We sing about getting old, about a prefabricated way of living, about moving in to a new city, about drinking wine with friends, about our city.
Is there a message 12XU is trying to get across to its audience, or are your lyrics a more personal matter?
12xU: We're definitely more into personal stuff. You probably reach more people talking about your own experiences and feelings rather than trying to speak with global ideas. We've been in bands in which we spoke about serious stuff and now we want to sing about topics that are less pompous.
In addition to 12XU, some of you play in another established band, Daitro. What prompted the formation of 12XU, even while Daitro is still performing and recording?
Paget: Gwen and I wanted to play fast and simple songs that wouldn't have worked out with Daitro. Hugues moved to Lyon and was already our friend and a drummer, so we knew he would be our man. Right now, we don't play w/Daitro, the band is on hiatus for an unknown length of time, but for a year we had the two bands going on at the same time, playing shows and recording.
Does being in two bands allow you more expressive freedom as an artist, or can it be draining to keep a creative momentum flowing between two projects?
Paget: I've personally never felt frustrated not playing 12XU-style songs with Daitro, nor have I ever felt frustrated not playing slower stuff with 12XU. I'm just someone who listens to too much music to synthesize everything in to just one band and that's why I need to play in different bands. It also helps to keep coherence in each band. The different ways of working with a band always interacts with the other one, so it's a really interesting combination. I don't believe in this artistic or expressive freedom, etc. with music. It's just a matter of playing music with people that are friends, trying to get as much pleasure as possible and make the best songs as possible with people who want the same thing. I'm not into that visceral need to get the hard conditions of existence out of me through music. And I've never needed to do that, by the way. (laughs)
Grosclaude : Quite the same for me. Different people, different music and it is cool to try new things after years spent in the same band.
What can we expect from 12XU in the future? Are you touring or planning to? Will we see you back in the States any time soon?
12xU: We plan on playing some shows and tour again in Europe in April. We want to go in Romania, Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland. We recorded new songs in January and will then work on the LP and the acoustic set. We have no plan to come back in the US yet, we're just coming back so it's maybe a little too soon to think about that.
Grosclaude : One of my dreams is to play in South America, so maybe one day. I keep a part of my brain focused on the future.
Le Corre: Our tour in the U.S. was so great that I would love to come back and go out West. There are so many places I would love to discover with Julien & Gwen.
Is there anything you would like to add?
12xU: Thank you so much for the interview and see you next time in America, because we will come back again!